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Everywhere the Wind Blew

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A blower door is sealed into an exterior doorway, all the house vents are temporarily sealed, and the calibrated fan blows air out of the house creating a pressure difference between the inside and outside, which draws air through inadequately sealed cracks, holes and penetrations.2 / 3
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Chris and Martha Byrnes knew their nearly century-old Hunter Park house was

pretty drafty...and the exterior was starting to show its age, too. "We were at the point that the siding was so old, you'd touch it and it'd come off in your hands," says Chris Byrnes. Clearly they needed a solution beyond new paint and some caulk. What they got was a "deep energy retrofit" and a whole new way to live in their home.

It started with a call to Better World Builders (BWB), a local company certified in green remodeling and construction. Leon Roharbaugh and Pete Dingels of BWB came out with their blower door, a diagnostic tool that measures airtightness and pinpoints leaks. They set up a giant fan, aimed to blow air out of the house and create pressure to force air through any gaps. They lit a smoke pencil (picture an incense stick) and drafty areas drove the line of smoke directly to the fan. "They waved it in front of our windows and by the chimney, even our storage cubbies, and we just watched this stream of smoke get sucked toward the fan," says Martha. "It was wild to just see how much cold air was coming in."

Cold Diagnosis

The priority was making the upstairs more comfortable - the kids were balking at sleeping in cold bedrooms. This meant the BWB crew had to tear into a third floor remodel to gain access to the wall cavities. "I'm the skinniest one so I'd get shoved into these little holes in the wall with all my tools," says Roharbaugh. "But to do it right, you just have to get inside there and seal it up."

Big Green Do-over

Making the upstairs more efficient changed the airflow in the entire house and ultimately inspired the Byrnes family to tackle the outside of the home, as well. "We literally framed a house directly over their existing house," explains Roharbaugh. The crew screwed in furring strips to the

exterior, laid insulation, sealed it with spray foam, applied house wrap and then re-framed all of the windows before applying a fiber cement board exterior, manufactured with recycled products. While they were at it, they replaced 14 windows, a set of French doors and put on a new roof.

"The house just feels different, more solid," says Martha. It's early in the heating season, but the couple says they've already seen a difference in their energy bills. The biggest change is how the family now lives in the house. "We used to spend the winter huddled around this little heater in the kitchen," says Chris, "but now we put a table in the dining room and use it." They also ordered some comfortable chairs to add to their front room. "We hardly had any furniture in this room before, because

we were never in it. Now it's where we all hang out," says Martha. "We've got a whole new pattern to living in the house."

Rarely can homeowners resist adding additional projects when there's a

construction crew on hand. Martha had always wanted an outdoor room for

entertaining and asked Roharbaugh about adding a decorative awning to the side of their house. "I think it was early the next morning or the day after that he's at our kitchen table with all these design ideas sketched out," says Chris. "He was really into it," adds Martha, seeming a little suspicious of anyone exhibiting that much excitement at 7:30 in the morning.

The Byrnes hosted a party under their new awning when the remodel was finished. "We had everyone over who had worked on the project," says Chris.

"We're really proud of that job," says Dingels. "That they feel good in their home is just what we love to hear." It's why he and Roharbaugh specialize in the challenging field of green remodeling and will animatedly explain all the theories and math behind their work with big hand gestures and pencil drawings on napkins. "We could just be another company building new houses," says Roharbaugh, "or we could be out there doing something really ahead of the curve.